Author of the Month

Name: Jack Grimwood

First Novel: NeoAddix

Most Recent Book: Moskva

'‘Moskva’ has more layers than a Russian doll!'

Christmas Eve 1985: A young boy’s body is found outside the Kremlin Wall. He has been shaved form head to toe and he is missing the little finger from his right hand.

New Years’ Eve 1985: Army Intelligence Officer, Tom Fox has had a few ‘issues’ in recent months and has been sent to Moscow to calm down. He is not enjoying the British Embassy party with all its pomp and ceremony. The only intrigue is why the Russian’s who constantly politely decline their invitations year in, year out, have this year decided to accept and see in the New Year with the British? Fox talks to the British Ambassadors step-daughter for only a few minutes. Their encounter is not friendly and Fox is not in the mood to take a sulky, bored teenager under his wing. Days later, the girl has vanished. Bearing a recent bereavement close to his chest, Fox intends to find the girl alive, and maybe bring himself some peace of mind. Little does Fox know that his search will lead him through a labyrinth of danger and fear – and that nobody involved can be trusted.

This is my first book written by Jack Grimwood which is another pseudonym from the pen of Jon Courtenay-Grimwood - but that is something I intend to remedy very soon. Grimwood is a sublime writer with some gorgeous passages that hit the mark with the emotional turmoil Fox feels, whether it be about the missing girl, the young who have been murdered and left to be found like trophies or about his own estranged family. Although ‘Moskva’ is classed as a thriller, Grimwood gives his characters a greater depth than is normally found in this sub-genre. There are also moments when I felt glimmers of le Carré shining through the prose.

Grimwood perfectly delivers the sense of paranoia of a country steeped in suspicion. Every man, woman and child is afraid of being taken in by the authorities who can sniff the merest scent of dissention towards the Motherland. It really is an eye-opener to read how people live under such a strict and unforgiving regime. Not only that, but Fox meets wall after silent wall from his own embassy.

Amongst all this, Fox has to unravel a complex skein of deception to locate the missing girl, Alex. All roads lead back to the atrocities of WWII, to Stalingrad and Berlin. Grimwood portrays Tom Fox as a fractured knight in dulled armour. His heart is in the right place, but Fox is no saint and is guided by forces whose only wish is to have him removed to protect their vile plans. All this is told with the right amount of action that propels ‘Moskva’ and Grimwood’s marvelous characterisation lifts this book from being just another gung-ho thriller. This is certainly a dilemma of David and Goliath proportions.

I became immersed in ‘Moskva’ and could feel the cold snow around my feet as I turned the pages. I could sense the desperation Fox felt as his efforts to find Alex were thwarted time and again. To say more would give too much away, but I suspect that like myself, you will need some warm clothes while reading this intelligent novel. It really is something apart from the norm I have recently read. ‘Moskva’ has more layers than a Russian doll!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) ‘Moskva’ is your first foray in to thriller territory under the new guise of Jack Grimwood. Why did you choose Russia in 1985 as your starting post? How different was it writing this book compared to your other novels which have been Sci-Fi based?
I was in Moscow very briefly in 1986 and in New York very shortly after that and the switch of paces and sensibilities wasn't just like changing countries or cultures, it felt like changing realities or centuries. Also, the last days of the Soviet Union fascinate me. There was a real sense of new hope when I was there, of a hitherto monolithic culture changing, but also a sense that the USSR would endure.

My last book, as Jonathan Grimwood, was a literary novel set in France in the run up to the French Revolution and the collapse of the ancient regime. I think I feel we're close to the edge ourselves, that our society will not endure for much longer and that draws me to this. The biggest challenge was remaining within the thriller structure. Quite hard for someone who likes to spin off where it takes me, even if that's a change of century or worlds.
2) ‘Moskva’ starts with the discovery of a boy’s body outside the Kremlin walls. As the novel progresses there is a recurring theme of the difficult relationship between a father who does not work 9-5 and their child. Was this deliberate?
The body in the snow is a challenge and on a personal level a tragedy for the boy's father. There are other equally complicated father and son and father and daughter relationships within Moskva; and all my books tend to be about families anyway, both the ones we're born into and the ones we create for ourselves. Plus, of course, I read Turgenev's, ‘Fathers and Sons’ as a teenager (and read it one way), then again when I had a child (and found myself reading the same words but an entirely different book)!
3) You delve quite deeply in to Russia’s history, in particular about Stalingrad. Do you feel the Russians involvement in WWII thawed some of their suspicions towards the West?
Stalingrad was the turning point of the war and we forget the vast and almost unimaginable losses that Soviet Russia suffered in its desperation to stop the Nazi advance and turn the tide back against Berlin. 26.6 million died, with 8.7 million military dead. Their figures dwarf others. We, the west, certainly pretended to like them and they to like us. Whether it was ever more than my enemy’s enemy is my friend I don't know. If it was, it unravelled fairly fast after Russia's conquest of Berlin.
4) You describe several atrocities about WWII where even Russian would turn on Russian. Did fact sometimes sound more chilling than fiction when you were doing your research for this novel?
The research was horrific. There were atrocities in all fields of the Second World War from what I can learn. Those in the Soviet theatre seem worse on both sides. But the slaughter and brutality fed itself and the Soviet troops were untrained, often poorly armed, starved and must have known they were disposable. In many of the reports the casualty level in battle read as if they come straight from the First World War. And the aftermath, when the war was done and much of central Europe a lawless and fluid mass of refugees, was almost as bad in many ways. I looked at photographs and read reports I wouldn't necessarily want to read it again.
5) Army Intelligence Officer, Tom Fox is your main protagonist here. Although damaged, I felt he was quite a personable man who had lost his way. Are we to hear more from Mr. Fox or are you intending to feature different characters?
Oh no, Tom Fox is here for the duration! I'm writing the second novel, set in Berlin in 1986, at the moment and I had lunch with my editor last week and we discussed the location and shape of the Tom Fox book after that. I like Fox a lot. He's badly damaged but decent, tied by a sense of duty that makes him do things he despises but would probably do again. He's the opposite, for me he's the opposite, of the CIA gung-ho hero.
6) I was in my teens in the mid-80s and remember Gorbachev and his policies of ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’. In ‘Moskva’, you show the old guard being very suspicious of Gorbachev’s ideals. Having immersed yourself in 1985, do you feel todays Russia has moved on or slipped back to before Gorbachev’s time?
I'd love to know how the world would have looked if the old guard hadn't finally moved against Gorbachev, arrested him and taken him to that dacha, and Yeltsin hadn't stood on top of that tank in Moscow to defy the coup. I'm not sure, in the immediate aftermath of the fall, that life wasn't worse for many people, for all that it was substantially better for some. I had friends living in Russia in the early 90s and it sounded like the Wild West. Someone told me that half the KGB became capitalists and half gangsters, and often it was hard to tell which was which.
7) For writers who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
Everyone says write, and they're right, you have to write even when you're too tired and you don't want to, the words won't come and you don't think you've got a story or anything you want to say. But you also have to read as widely as possible in English and translation, in genres you like and genres you don't like. And don't, for god sake, read only men (or, less likely, only women). Everything you read sinks into the bedrock. It's what you draw on when you're looking for inspiration.

When I first started I used to murder paperbacks with coloured pens, circling description and dialogue, internal thoughts and passages that pushed the reader on. Then I'd flick through the chapters to see how they were shaped and put together.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction in general? What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression and you would want on a desert island?
Three?! Gods...

First would have to be A Morning for Flamingos – James Lee Burke. I bought it in New York years ago and it was the first James Lee Burke I'd ever read. I I know he's famous as a crime novelist but he should be famous full stop. He's one of half a dozen crime novelists I buy in hardback, and always have done, even in the days I really couldn't afford it. The others, off the top of my head, include Donna Leon, Ian Rankin, Andrea Camilleri, John Connolly, Carl Hiaasen...

I loved The Mersault Investigation – Kamel Daoud, and Arab Jazz – Karim Miske. But I can't get it down to three. And if I had to have only three books on a desert island one of them would have to be Mikhail Bulgakov's, ‘The Master and Margarita’ and that one leaves room for two anyway.